Sermon preached April 14, 2013
Text: John 21:1-19
A few months into my first pastorate, a young woman who was a member of my church came to me with a story that was causing her alarm. Proctor and Gamble had a symbol for its company back then – a bearded man in the moon looking out over 13 stars. The story that disturbed the church member was that the President of Proctor and Gamble had appeared on the Phil Donahue Show. He was now prepared to share, in a more open society, his association with Satanism. The symbol of the moon and stars was a satanic symbol, and profits from Proctor and Gamble supported the church of Satan. When asked by Donahue if he thought his openness about this might hurt business, the president of Proctor and Gamble replied, “There are not enough Christians in the United States to make a difference.” My parishioner had received this in a letter which encouraged Christians to stand up and make their voice heard.
The story, by the way, was not true at all. I was skeptical of it, and found a toll-free phone number for Proctor and Gamble. They sent me a packet of documents with testimonies from Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, Phil Donahue and others that there was no truth to the story whatsoever. The story would not go away, and eventually Proctor and Gamble gave up that logo. One interesting thing about the story is that it was about how you were supposed to stand up for Jesus by protesting this dissing of Christians by the President of Proctor and Gamble.
There are a few of those kind of “stand up for Jesus” things around, and social media have offered new opportunities for them. Did you know that you could “like” Jesus on Facebook, or follow Jesus on Twitter?
A few days ago, the following was posted by someone on Facebook:
I believe in Jesus Christ and have accepted him as my personal Savior. One Facebooker has challenged all believers to put this on their wall. In the Bible it says, if you deny me in front of your peers, I will deny you in front of my Father at the gates of Heaven. This is simple, if you love God and are not afraid to show it, repost this. Just copy and paste… No shame!
The ironic thing about this is that it is, in itself, a bit shaming. If you are uncomfortable about posting it, are you really a Christian? If you are not ready to storm aisles of your favorite store and avoid Proctor and Gamble, is your faith what it should be? Is the essence of Christian faith really liking Jesus with a click of a mouse, or following Jesus Christ on Twitter?
We have before us today a wonderfully fascinating story from last chapter of the Gospel of John. Some of the disciples are together at the Sea of Tiberius, or Sea of Galilee. They decide to go fishing. They fish through the night, catching nothing. At daybreak Jesus appears on the shore, though they do not recognize him. He asks them about their fishing, invites them to try something else, and when they do, their net is full to the breaking point. Jesus is recognized. Peter puts on some clothes, apparently he had been fishing without any. You never hear of that technique on the Saturday fishing shows. They haul the fish in. They eat the breakfast Jesus has prepared. Jesus and Peter have a conversation.
Jesus asks Peter three times – “Do you love me?” Three times Peter answers, “Yes, Lord, you know that I do.” Jesus tells him: “Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep.” He ends the conversation with “Follow me.”
If we take this story seriously, it would seem that to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus, has a bit less to do with liking Jesus on Facebook, or following Jesus on Twitter, or posting something that someone tells you you need to post if you really love Jesus, than with trying to be more like Jesus. The Christian life is not “Like” Jesus in the Facebook sense, it is “like” Jesus in character and action.
To be a Christian, a follower of Jesus, to try and be like Jesus, has something to do with feeding, and I think we should take this literally. There are a number of stories in the gospels about Jesus feeding others and eating with others. Food is a basic necessity of life. To be like Jesus means to care about whether or not people have enough to eat. I think this is why churches are behind so many food shelves and soup kitchens.
Beyond feeding, we also should be asking why it is there are so many who are hungry. 14.5% of U.S. households—nearly 49 million Americans, including 16.2 million children—struggle to put food on the table. Hunger in the United States does not have to do with the absence of food, but with poverty. More than one in seven people in the United States lives below the poverty line and more than one in five children. 65% of low-income families have at least one working family member. In most areas, a family of four needs to earn twice the poverty line to provide children with basic necessities. A person working full-time at the minimum wage earns about $14,500 a year. The official poverty line for a family of three—one parent with two children—is $17,568. (Statistics from Bread for the World).
Why are there so many hungry? Why are there so many poor? How can hard working people still struggle to get by? Is there something askew with a system where we pay a state university basketball coach with just a few years of experience over a million dollars a year when there are those who work forty hours a week but don’t have health insurance and struggle to feed their families? In attending the workshop this week on poverty I was reminded again of our need to ask questions about social arrangements that leave too many hungry and too many poor. I believe they are questions Jesus would because Jesus was about feeding others.
To be like Jesus is to be concerned with feeding others, and asking about hunger. Human beings have other hungers, deeper hungers. There are hungers/for a nameless bread (Carl Sandburg, “Timesweep” in Collected Poems, 758). We have hungers of the soul. We hunger for meaning. We hunger for connection. We hunger to discover our gifts. We hunger to use our gifts for the good of the world. We hunger for God.
To be like Jesus is to be concerned with these hungers, too. We pay attention to the soul. We seek to help people in their soul work. We walk the spiritual journey with others. We work to break down barriers that get in the way of people connecting, some within ourselves as I was reminded of in another workshop I attended this week.
To be a follower of Jesus is to seek to be like Jesus. To be like Jesus is to engage in action to feed hunger – the hungers of the stomach, the hungers of the soul. To be like Jesus is also shaping a life. The ethicist William Spohn writes, “Those who belong to Christ ought to feel and act as he does” (Go and Do Likewise, 165). He continues: “Love, justice, compassion, gratitude, hope, repentance, and the like gain distinctly Christian content from the particular ways that Jesus spoke and acted” (186). Charles Wesley in his hymn, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” says of Jesus – “Jesus, thou are all compassion, pure unbounded love thou art.” It is that kind of life we are invited to shape, a life of compassion, unbounded love, Jesus love, Jesus justice, Jesus hope.
Only you can be like Jesus the way you can be like Jesus. Only you have your gifts, experiences, histories in which to let Jesus love, Jesus justice, Jesus hope, Jesus compassion shine. You are invited to follow Jesus in your own sweet way.
If our focus as Christians is more on being like Jesus than making statements about liking Jesus, who knows what wonderful things might happen. As we seek to make that mysterious presence of Jesus more real in our lives and in our world, might our nets be filled wonderfully full and yet not be torn? What might that mean?
Maybe it means that in our lives we are able to take in more of the world, its beauty, tragedy, pain, joy while staying true to our work of becoming more like Jesus. Maybe it means that our community of faith becomes enriched with many others, and yet stay together, because we are all focused on becoming more like Jesus. Becoming more like Jesus is what liking Jesus is all about.